UnCensered: 8 Difference Makers This Weekend
|Duke's David Lawson and the Blue
Devils' other veteran midfielders are valuable commodities, as
recent May history has shown.
© Peyton Williams
There have been constants the last few postseasons: ACC teams make lots of playoff noise, Quint wears pastels, championship teams are the ones that score lots of goals — 15 of the last 20 teams to appear in the Division I championship game have had a top eight scoring offense. Moreover, many of those squads have had guys who helped win the possession war.
Last year, Loyola's Josh Hawkins and Scott Ratliff ran roughshod all over the Foxborough turf. A season earlier, Wahoo Chris LaPierre scrapped and had no problem putting his shoulder down on the clear. Duke had long-sticks in 2010 that were some of the best ever at gobbling up loose balls and running from defense to offense. Syracuse could credit its 2008 and 2009 championships as much to the one-man-clear Matt Abbott as to its explosive offense.
I don't really buy that old adage about needing a hot goaltender to win on Memorial Day. Of the last five champions, only one had an All-American in net (Virginia's Adam Ghitleman). In the modern game, it's about who has the ball and then who has the personnel to capitalize on those situations. Everything else is secondary.
So, as to who is going to help their squads advance this weekend, I think the most important guys either help their teams get the requisite amount of possessions or the requisite number of goals. Here are my eight X-factors to watch.
Duke midfielders David Lawson, Jake Tripucka and Josh Offit
When writing about former Terp Drew Snider's playoff tear last year, I discussed why veteran midfielders seem to have more relevance later in the season.
"In postseason lacrosse, teams make you earn your goals in the half-field. So the guys who draw a short-stick are going to have to initiate offense, draw slides, and generate quality looks. Because playing midfield is often about experience and having some necessary physical prerequisites, it usually comes down to a few guys who have been around the block before."
Despite having written that while stuffing my face full of pressbox chicken fingers, I still think there's a lot of truth to that.
When Duke faces Loyola Saturday, the Blue Devils are probably going to have to hit double-digit goals. Considering Jordan Wolf is going to be marked by Joe Fletcher, arguably the best cover defenseman in the country, Duke's veteran midfielders are going to have to be able to take their guy off the dodge. But doing that against Loyola's vaunted rope unit is easier said than done. Southpaw Lawson is a primetime midfielder who seems every week to be more and more comfortable working against a pole. Offit is a converted attackman and bulldog who can score with or without the ball in his stick. Like Lawson, Tripucka is another ACC prototype midfielder who can invert, alley dodge, find the open man and won't be intimated by Hawkins and Ratliff.
Denver faceoff man Chase Carraro
There's an easy way to ensure that Lyle, Miles and Ty Thompson don't break out for another zillion point game.
Don't let them have the ball.
Carrarro is Denver's faceoff guy and can do more than crouch and clamp. He is faster than most everyone else. He can dodge in the open field and play in settled offense. He's a playmaker.
While he has been hampered by an early-season injury, he seems to be healthy and hitting his stride. If he can go on another 22-for-30 heater like he did in last year's first round matchup against North Carolina's R.G. Keenan that would be a huge boon to throwing a wrench in Albany's Thompson-led, shovel-pass friendly offensive machine.
Penn State long-stick Steven Bogert and defensive midfielder Michael Richards
Yale keeps it pretty simple. The Bulldogs defend, scrap all over the field, play hard and smart on offense and have arguably the best faceoff man in the country in senior horse Dylan Levings.
This isn't particularly good news for a Nittany Lions squad that usually relies on having more possessions than their opponent. Obviously, Penn State faceoff man Danny Henneghan is super talented in his own right and will be crucial to the Lions winning the middle of the field. But long-stick Bogert and star defensive midfielder Richards are very athletic, tough and skilled in the unsettled or when the ball is on the carpet. If Penn State expects to win this game those two are going to have to be wearing their hard hats and maybe manufacturing a goal or two in transition.
Maryland attackman Kevin Cooper
I wrote about it Thursday, but it's not much of a secret that Maryland has struggled to generate offense after a blistering start. I think Cooper is the best candidate to be the quarterback and primary initiator if the Terps are struggling to penetrate. When Cooper dodges hard, uses picks or his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage, and attacks from anywhere and everywhere he is an absolute load. The wiry senior could be especially effective against Cornell defenseman that trend smaller and who may not be able to match up pound-for-pound.
Lehigh midfielder Alex Drake
Lehigh is going to play North Carolina tough. The Mountain Hawks are just a hard-nosed team. And defensemen Mike Noone and Ty Souders might be the best pair in the country when it comes to being able to cover Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey's ankle-breaking routine from X.
Still, Carolina is very likely to put up double-digit goals. I mean, Marcus Holman is a Tewaaraton candidate and often draws the third defenseman!
So, can the Hawks go goal-for goal with the Heels? Lehigh has some offensive firepower and their attack group of David DiMaria, Dan Taylor and Dante Fantoni is super slick and can really move the ball to all corners of the field. I'm also a big fan of that pairs-styled, pick-friendly offense they run from the wings. Still, I think Lehigh is going to have figure out ways to create space beyond just relying on attack dodges or the picking game. That leaves Drake, the most natural dodger from the Lehigh midfield, to take over some initiating duties.